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Advocacy Efforts During COVID-19

Advocacy Efforts During COVID-19

The spread of COVID-19 has affected nearly all aspects of our daily lives. For the Medical Association’s efforts in protecting physicians and patients, this was also true. Nonetheless, between March 13 (when Gov. Ivey issued the COVID-19 state of emergency) and mid-May, our advocacy work continued in full-force.

Executive Actions & Proposals

  • Worked with various stakeholders and Governor Ivey to secure liability protections via an Executive Order for physicians, their staff and their practices against frivolous COVID-19 lawsuits (summary available here);
  • Successfully advocated against multiple dangerous scope of practice expansions proposed by both state and national organizations. Among other things, these proposals would have (1) eliminated physician supervision and destroyed the team-based care model; (2) granted CRNAs the ability to prescribe controlled substances; and (3) allowed pharmacists to switch a patient’s drugs without prescriber authorization and without any requirement to notify to the prescriber or the patient; and
  • Successfully advocated against a proposal to give out-of-state telehealth corporations special treatment that physicians currently living, working, and paying taxes in Alabama do not enjoy.

Telehealth Payment Parity

  • As one of our longstanding priorities (payment parity between in-person visits and telehealth services), we were proud to see reimbursement rates addressed and the policy of parity come to fruition.

Miss our 2020 Legislative Recap, What if No One was on Call? Click here for the annual rundown.

Posted in: Advocacy, Coronavirus, Liability, Members

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Honoring Dr. Jefferson Underwood

Honoring Dr. Jefferson Underwood

Long-time Montgomery physician and Medical Association member Jefferson Underwood III, M.D., was recently honored with two distinct awards.

The Alabama Chapter American College of Physicians recognized Jefferson Underwood III, MD, FACP, as the 2020 Laureate Award recipient and the Medical Association of the State of Alabama presented Dr. Underwood with the 2020 Samuel Buford Word Award. These presentations are typically made in person at the annual meetings, but due to the cancellation of this year’s events because of COVID-19, Dr. Underwood was honored in his home with a small group of family and colleagues present.

In 2018, Dr. Underwood became the first African-American male to serve as President of the Medical Association. He previously served the Association as President-Elect, Vice President and Secretary-Treasurer.

He is a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Alabama State University in Montgomery and Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn. He completed his internship and residency at D.C. General Hospital/Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

He previously received the Douglas L. Cannon Award from the Medical Association for Outstanding Medical Journalism for Community Service, the Alabama Young Democrats Achievement Award for Community Service in Health, 2005 Physician of the Year and 2015 Montgomery’s Top Doctor by the International Association of Internal Medicine.

“It was an honor for me to present the 2020 Samuel Buford Word Award, the Medical Association’s highest honor, to Jefferson Underwood.  The Word Award is presented to a physician for outstanding service to humanity that goes above and beyond the usual call of duty.  That certainly describes Jefferson Underwood,“ said John S. Meigs, Jr., MD, current President of the Medical Association. “Whether in his service to the Association, his service to the community or his service to his profession, Jefferson has always exemplified grace, dignity and compassion with a quiet strength and conviction that characterized his own sense of fairness and respect for others that resulted in true service to humanity.”

Giving back to his community is one of Dr. Underwood’s passions. As an adjunct professor at Alabama State University, he taught biology. He also served on the board of directors for the Montgomery Area United Way, the Alliance for Responsible Individual Choices for AIDS/HIV, Montgomery County Health Department Hunt Diabetic Clinic, Central Alabama Home Health, Oxford Home Health, Father Walter’s Center for Gifted Children, Habitat for Humanity, and was the health editor for The Montgomery Advertiser.

During the presentation of the awards, Dr. Underwood was also presented with a clock from the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners as a memento of his service to the Board.  “Why do we present you with a clock?  Because, the clock represents time, and, time represents eternity.  As a member of our Board staff has said, ‘Once a member of the Board, always a member of the Board,’” Dr. Mark LeQuire, MD FACR, explains. “In preparation for this presentation, I walked about the halls of the Board building, admiring the composites of previous Board members, and was invigorated to remember the giants in medicine in the State of Alabama whom have served.  Jefferson you are one of those giants, and now, you will always be one of those giants.  The fraternity of your fellow Board members thanks you for your service, for the exemplary manner in which you modeled the perfect physician priest, for your calming demeanor and influence in times of both need and stress, and for just simply being our brother and our friend.  Remember, we will always cherish you, you will never be forgotten, and we are always at your service.  May our God bless you and yours every so richly and deeply.”

Posted in: Leadership, Members

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Alabama Department of Public Health Advises Health Care Providers in Use of COVID-19 Tests not Approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration

Alabama Department of Public Health Advises Health Care Providers in Use of COVID-19 Tests not Approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration

The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) supports health care workers’ efforts to care for Alabama citizens during this COVID-19 health crisis. As this public health emergency evolves, there is need for increased availability of SARS CoV-2 diagnostic testing. In response to this demand, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released policies to authorize emergency use of in vitro diagnostics to increase testing capacity and development to promote widespread testing for COVID-19. As a result, the availability of commercial testing devices proliferated, many with false claims by distributors. ADPH therefore advises health care providers to choose COVID-19 testing systems that are FDA approved when making decisions regarding their patients.

Tests not approved by the FDA can produce false results and lead to unintended consequences for the patient and broader community. A false negative result from a non-approved kit may lead someone who has COVID-19 to think they are not infected and cannot spread the illness. Patients need accurate information about their health, and health care providers and officials need accurate information to provide appropriate medical care and make public health decisions.

Currently, the most accurate FDA-approved testing available is polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays. PCR tests can detect small amounts of the virus collected in samples from the patient’s nose or throat. Public health, commercial, and some clinical laboratories use PCR technology to diagnose COVID-19 infections. Many of these tests have FDA approval through emergency use authorization (EUA).

Serology testing is gaining momentum in the marketplace as collection of blood samples is easy and many platforms are point of care with results in minutes.  Serological tests detect if an individual’s body is developing antibodies against COVID-19. While these tests can be used to track disease, they are not reliable as or recommended for diagnostics and is even stated on most package inserts. At this time, there are only three serological tests that are EUA approved (https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/emergency-situations-medical-devices/emergency-use-authorizations#covid19ivd).

If your facility is considering a serology-based test that is not EUA approved by FDA, understand that:

  • Currently no Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance exists as to how to interpret or take public health action in response to a positive or negative COVID-19 serology result.
  • These tests have not had performance reviews by FDA.
  • Negative serology results do not rule out COVID-19 in a patient.
  • Serological testing should not be the sole basis to diagnose or exclude infection, or to inform infection status. 
  • The immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection is poorly understood at this time.
  • Cross reactivity is likely. Positive results could reflect past or present infection with non-SARS-CoV-2 strains.
  • False negative results could occur when the immune response is too low to be detected.
  • If serology-based test results are submitted to ADPH, they will not be included in the COVID-19 counts at this time due to lack of guidance regarding interpretation.

ADPH fully supports health care providers on the front lines of this pandemic and trust they will use this advisory to make informed decisions regarding their patient’s health. It is important to be aware of distributors’ false claims. Thank you for your commitment and dedication in service for the citizens of Alabama. If you have questions regarding this information, contact Burnestine Taylor, M.D., at burnestine.taylor@adph.state.al.us.

Posted in: Coronavirus, Members

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Chronic Care Management in the Coronavirus Pandemic

Chronic Care Management in the Coronavirus Pandemic

Article contributed by: Tammie Lunceford, CMPE CPC with Warren Averett

Chronic Care Management Expands Care

Several years ago, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services released Chronic Care Management to assist in improving patient outcomes, extend care, and improve quality in chronic illness.  The initial chronic care code, 99490 allowed for 20 minutes of non-face to face phone communication with clinical staff per month which reimbursed forty-two dollars per month.  The patient had to agree to be enrolled in the program and agree to an $8 co-pay.  Only one physician can enroll a patient and the patient must have at least two complex chronic conditions lasting more than twelve months.  Most physicians did not adopt chronic care management due to the low reimbursement, the physician had to treat all chronic conditions which excluded most specialists from participating.

Some large practices outsource chronic care management and share the reimbursement.  Whether the practice uses internal staff or outsourced staff, CCM services provide additional care and coordination to the most chronically ill.  The patients receiving this service feel more connected to their provider and a change in their status is identified quickly.  If the practice also has telemedicine, a non-face to face service can quickly become a face to face visit to address concerns. Due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, these interactions could provide the care needed to protect the chronically ill from being exposed to the deadly virus. 

The 2020 Final Medicare Physician Fee Schedule added some provisions to Chronic Care Management services.  The addition of Principle Chronic Management allows a patient with a single high-risk chronic condition lasting more than 12 months to qualify for the program. PCM should increase the use of chronic care management with specialists, such as cardiologist and pulmonologists.  Also approved for 2020, is G2058 which is an add-on code to allow an additional 20 minutes of time spent in continuous communication with the patient.  The add-on code reimburses $37.89 and can be billed concurrently to 99490, two times monthly, per beneficiary.  The total possible reimbursement for 60 minutes of non-complex CCM is $118.01. 

The new opportunities to provide chronic care management and principle care management will allow specialists managing hundreds of patients with chronic conditions, such as, COPD or diabetes to improve the overall health of the patient, improve patient engagement, improve quality and receive reimbursement worthy of the effort.

Practices are currently working to provide many modes of communication to serve patients without seeing them in the office.  Patient portals have failed in the past because many portals were not user friendly or practices failed to make them valuable by offering valid information through the portal.  In times of crisis, such as COVID-19, it is quite possible for the phone lines to be full but utilizing the patient portal and offering CCM and PCM allows a practice to fulfill many patient’s needs without a physician or mid-level providing the interaction.

We are in crisis as COVID-19 cases increase across the nation, but we have seen monumental change through the emergency expansion of telemedicine.  As administrators and physician leaders review the options to expand communication through technology and ongoing medical management, we will be better prepared for crisis situations in the future.

Posted in: Coronavirus, Management, Members

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Charting & Documentation During the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic

Charting & Documentation During the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic

The world’s memory of this virus will be different when lawsuits are filed two years from now and juries try the cases two to three years after that. The acuteness of the issues, the confusion, the limited resources and the changing daily directives will not be remembered in any meaningful detail. Accordingly, the Risk Management dogma that has always emphasized charting is more important now than usual. If the standard of care is judged as care “under the same or similar circumstances”, and those circumstances are “delivering care in a COVID-19 pandemic”, how will we show those circumstances in a 2025 jury trial?  We recommend vigilant documentation.

In consideration of Alabama’s sample ventilator allocation guidance, and exemplary language from other states, Starnes, Davis, Florie, LLP. recommends the below language be charted in circumstances where a resource may be diverted away from a patient who could be in need.  The sample language specifically applies to decisions in triaging a patient and any initial treatment decisions regarding a specific (limited) resource.

Sample Language:

In making a clinical judgment regarding the allocation of [resource] during the [COVID-19 pandemic / public health emergency], I have assessed the patient’s history, symptoms, and condition and considered the limited availability of resources and clinical factors associated with the allocation of limited resources.  My clinical judgment, under the totality of the circumstances, is that [clinical decision] is appropriate for this patient as an alternative medical intervention.

We also recommend against language or specific explanations to patients as follows:

·        Language / an explanation to a patient or a patient’s family explicitly referencing financial issues or considerations.

·        Language / an explanation to a patient or patient’s family focusing the considerations on the resource itself as opposed to the specific patient.

·        Language / an explanation to a patient or patient’s family specifically documenting the condition of other patients or the specific condition of other patients receiving resources.

·        Language / an explanation to a patient or a patient’s family specifically quantifying any patient’s likelihood of successful treatment – that being the patient receiving the resource and the patient not receiving the resource.

·        Language / an explanation to a patient or a patient’s family specifically comparing patients or outcomes.

·        Language / an explanation to a patient or a patient’s family specifically referencing medical ethics.  Medical ethics underpins all clinical decisions and does not need to be specifically included in the chart.

This information is not intended to provide legal advice, and no legal or business decision should be based on its content. No representation is made that the quality of legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers.  Read full disclaimer.

Posted in: Legal Watch, Members

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Families First Coronavirus Response Act (HR6201) Summary

Families First Coronavirus Response Act (HR6201) Summary

Last night President Trump signed what is being called the second coronavirus stimulus bill. It provides for free coronavirus screening, $1 billion in additional unemployment insurance funding to all states, a bump in Medicaid FMAP, $1 billion in food aid, and two provisions to provide paid sick leave to employees. 

 Emergency Paid Sick Leave

This provision gives 80 hours or 2 weeks of paid sick leave to individuals who work for employers with fewer than 500 employees. This applies to all employees, both full time and part-time with part-time receiving leave equal to the average number of hours worked. There is also no tenure of employment requirement. This leave is available to workers who are:

  1. In self-isolation because of a coronavirus diagnosis
  2. Obtaining a diagnosis or care due to coronavirus symptoms
  3. Complying with an order to self-isolate because of exposure to someone with coronavirus
  4. Caring for a family member with a diagnosis or symptoms
  5. Caring for a child without access to daycare or school because of closure.

If the employee falls under the first 3 categories, they are entitled to full pay, but if work is missed to care for a family member or a child without access to school or daycare only two-thirds of pay is due. An employer cannot force an employee to use existing, traditional sick leave first.

Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act (EFMLA)

If after the first 2 weeks, the employee needs additional days, the EFMLA will be triggered. The existing FMLA provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but this emergency measure would provide that up to 10 weeks of that emergency eave that would be paid. The first two weeks under EFMLA would remain unpaid and during the following 10 weeks employees would be entitled to two-thirds of their pay.

Like the emergency paid sick leave provision, EFMLA would be for those diagnosed with coronavirus, caring for a family member diagnosed, and caring for a child without access to daycare or school. Unlike the paid sick leave provision, employees must have worked for 30 days and there is a hardship exemption for small business with under 50 employees. Under the hardship exemption, the US Department of Labor is given the authority to develop regulations to exempt a small business if EFMLA threatens the viability of the business. 

The United States Secretary of Labor has the authority to issue regulations for good cause to (1) exclude certain health care providers and emergency responders from the definition of eligible employee; and to exempt small businesses with fewer than 50 employees when the imposition would jeopardize the viability of the business. 

Tax Credit for Employers 

Employers would be eligible for a refundable tax credit of 100 percent of qualified sick leave wages paid and family leave wages paid against their employer-side payroll tax liability. Employers can claim a quarterly tax credit against payroll taxes for payments associated with these 2 provisions up to the total payroll taxes in that quarter.

Medicaid

The bill temporarily increases the Medicaid FMAP in all states by 6.2% beginning in the calendar quarter of the emergency and ending the quarter it is declared over. Coronavirus testing must also be provided with no cost sharing. Those eligible will only lose coverage if they leave the state.

The bill also creates a new Medicaid eligibility category for the uninsured. Uninsured individuals would only be eligible to receive diagnostic testing for coronavirus, no treatment, but that testing would be done at no cost and reimbursed at 100% FMAP.

Unemployment Insurance

As states expand the criteria for unemployment to include coronavirus reasons, the US Labor Department reported 281,000 new claims for unemployment insurance last week, a 70,000 jump over the previous week. The bill gives states $1 billion for unemployment insurance nationwide that will provide relief to those who are facing coronavirus-related job loss.  The unemployment aid would be broken in two separate payment structures. The first 50% of the grant would be sent to states for State Unemployment Agency staffing, technology, and other administrative costs so long as the states comply with three provisions in the bill. (1) Require employers to provide notification to the potential UI eligibility to laid off workers; (2) ensure that workers can apply for benefits in person, by phone, or online; two of the three must be available; (3) the state must notify applicants when an application is received and being processed and if the application cannot be processed, what information is needed to successfully process the claim.  Currently, the State of Alabama would meet the current requirements to receive their portion of the first $500 million package. The other $500 million would be reserved for an emergency grant package for those states that may have seen at least a 10% increase in unemployment. There is also flexibility built into the unemployment provision with the goal of making it easier for workers to access unemployment benefits by waiving waiting weeks and work search requirements.

States could potentially be eligible for Extended Benefits (EB) for unemployment compensation programs when the unemployment rate surpasses certain thresholds to trigger EB programs.  The first extended benefits trigger could allow for an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits after a claimant exhausts current state benefits (14 weeks of state UI benefits).

Food Assistance

The bill adds $500 million to provide access to nutritious foods to low-income pregnant women or mothers with young children who lose their jobs or are laid off due to the COVID-19 emergency through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC). There is also $400 million to assist local food banks to meet increased demand for low-income Americans during the emergency. The work requirement for the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP) is also suspended. There are also provisions to provide funding and flexibility in the free and reduced lunch program if a school is closed for 5 consecutive days and for at home delivery of meals to the elderly. 

Posted in: Medicaid, Medicare, Members

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Telehealth in Alabama during COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE)

Telehealth in Alabama during COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE)

prepared by Kim Huey, MJ, CHC, CPC, CCS-P, PCS, CPCO, COC

March 19, 2020

The most important thing to remember is that payers have differing definitions of what they consider telehealth.  I recommend checking with the applicable insurer for the most up-to-date information affecting requirements for coding and billing of telehealth services.  A few things to ask about: 

  • What are the effective dates?  Most insurers are limiting this exemption to a specific period of time. 
  • What services are covered? 
  • How are those to be billed? 
  • Do we use telehealth codes or office visit codes? 
  • What place of service? 
  • What modifiers are necessary?
  • For fee-for-service, traditional Medicare

The information below pertains to the major payers in Alabama as of 3/18/2020 –

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama is allowing providers to bill for phone call treatment of existing patients under the established patient office visit codes from 3/16/2020 – 4/16/2020.  They are allowing codes up to 99213 with place of service code 02 (zero two) for telehealth. No modifier is required.  Many providers are concerned about reaching that level of service when no examination can be performed.  Remember that established patient office visits require only two of the three key components – history, examination, medical decision-making.  If the physician documents an expanded problem-focused history and low complexity medical decision-making, 99213 will be supported.  This must be the physician speaking with the patient, not the office staff.

Alabama Medicaid normally requires separate credentialing for providers performing telehealth; however, that restriction has been waived 3/16/2020 – 4/16/2020 (dates of service).   Medical providers may bill established-patient evaluation and management codes 99211, 99212 and 99213 for telephone consultations.   Psychologists and behavioral health professionals should bill 90832, 90834, 90837, 90846, 90847 and H2011. A dental provider should bill D0140.  Place of service code 02 (zero two) for telehealth and modifier CR are required.  Verbal consent must be obtained and documented in the medical record.  These visits will count against the patient’s office visit limit of 14 visits per year.

United Health Care is waiving originating site restrictions for their commercial, Medicare Advantage, and Medicaid plans.  The patient may be at home or at another location.  All the other requirements for telehealth must be met – real-time audio and video communication system required. These include the place of service 02 and the GQ (asynchronous telecommunications system) or GT (interactive audio and video telecommunication system) modifier.  This waiver is only in effect until April 30, 2020.

Medicare

Fee-For-Service Medicare DOES NOT allow telephone calls to be billed as telehealth.  The PHE waiver provides three specific exceptions to the existing telehealth regulations:

  1. the patient can be in their home or other location – they do not have to be in a healthcare facility in a HPSA.
  2. the audio-video link can be something as simple as Skype or FaceTime or Facebook Messenger video calls – but it has to be a real-time audio AND video one-to-one connection, not something public-facing
  3. costshare can be waived – it is not automatically, but it can be waived at the providers’ discretion.

CMS also stated that they will not audit to verify that there is an established patient relationship.  Services are limited to the list of telehealth services at:  https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Medicare-General-Information/Telehealth/Telehealth-Codes

This does include office visits, consultations, Transitional Care Management, and Annual Wellness Visits.  Place of service is 02 (zero two) for telehealth.  No modifier is necessary unless you are billing from a CAH Method II hospital (GT) or you are treating the patient for an acute stroke (G0).  There is also a modifier for a telemedicine demonstration project in Alaska or Hawaii (GQ).

NOTE: Although CMS stated that no modifier is necessary, Palmetto GBA is requesting modifier CR be appended for tracking purposes.

For services that have a site of service differential, payment will be made at the facility rate.

CMS has not specified an end date for these exceptions, just that they will be allowed as long as the Public Health Emergency declaration is in effect.

If there is not a real-time audio-video connection, then you are limited to one of the following:

Virtual Check-In

  • G2012 – Brief communication technology-based service, e.g. virtual check-in, by a physician or other qualified health care professional who can report evaluation and management services, provided to an established patient, not originating from a related E/M service provided within the previous 7 days nor leading to an E/M service or procedure within the next 24 hours or soonest available appointment; 5-10 minutes of medical discussion
  • G2010 – Remote evaluation of recorded video and/or images submitted by an established patient (e.g., store and forward), including interpretation with follow-up with the patient within 24 business hours, not originating from a related E/M service provided within the previous 7 days nor leading to an E/M service or procedure within the next 24 hours or soonest available appointment

Please note the following restrictions:

  • Established patients only (same definition as for other E&M services)
  • Verbal consent required and must be documented in the patient’s medical record
  • No service-specific documentation requirements but medical necessity must be documented.
  • May only be billed by those providers who can perform and bill E&M services

To clarify – G2012 has been in effect since 1/1/2019 – it is supposed to be for an established patient, but CMS has said they will not audit for that requirement during this time.  It does not require the video link, so it is really the only option for phone calls.  It cannot be related to an office visit within the past 7 days, as that would be considered part of the work of the already-billed office visit.  And if the doctor tells the patient to come in at the first available appointment, it can’t be billed as it would be considered the pre-work for the upcoming office visit.  As it specifies 5-10 minutes of medical discussion, time should be documented.

For email or portal communication, we also have these codes, new for 2020:

  • #99421 – Online digital evaluation and management service, for an established patient, for up to 7 days, cumulative time during the 7 days; 5-10 minutes
  • #99422 – …11-20 minutes
  • #99423 – … 21 or more minutes

Please note the following restrictions:

  • Patient-initiated digital communications requiring a clinical decision that would otherwise be made during an office visit
  • Physician/Qualified Healthcare Professional (QHP) time only
  • Not billable if patient seen in person or through telehealth within 7 day period

For All Payers –

There have been questions on how to perform a visit by phone or audio-video without being able to examine the patient.  First of all, established patient visits require two of the three key components:  history, examination, and medical decision-making.  A visit can be billed based on history and medical decision-making.  However, some examination can be done without laying hands on the patient.  Observation can be done through video, and sometimes just through audio.  A physician can observe skin tone, abnormal movements, respiratory effort and many other exam elements without being able to necessarily touch the patient.  A complete Psychiatric exam can be accomplished through talking with the patient.

For example, the patient calls in with complaint of dysuria. The physician documents the complaint (Duration, Timing) and further asks questions about fever, nausea and vomiting (Constitutional and Gastrointestinal Review of Systems).  He also reviews the patient’s Past Medical History and Allergies.   Based on her previous history, he suspects that the patient has a urinary tract infection and orders an antibiotic.

A patient with asthma calls in with an exacerbation – the physician can actually hear the patient wheezing over the telephone – that would be documented as a problem-focused examination.

The key point is that the physician himself must have the conversation with the patient on the phone or through the audio-video link.  This may be something that a nurse may have handled previously, but now it must be performed by the physician to be billable. 

Posted in: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, CMS, Medicaid, Medicare, Members, Technology

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President’s Statement on Coronavirus COVID-19

President’s Statement on Coronavirus COVID-19

We now have thirty-two confirmed cases of the new coronavirus infection in Alabama.  We have all seen how this new virus has spread around the world from its beginning in China just a few months ago.  The World Health Organization has now classified this as a pandemic.  However, please remember that compared to the flu, the number of cases in Alabama, in this country and worldwide are still quite small.  I am hopeful that folks will not panic and let common sense dictate their response to this situation.  Our state and federal governments, the Alabama Department of Public Health, the Medical Association and others are all working to implement reasonable responses to this evolving situation.  Everyone’s health and safety is our primary concern.

Some important things to remember:

  1.  Over 90% of the cases of COVID-19 have been mild and resemble the common cold.
  2. Half of the people worldwide that have contracted this disease have now completely recovered.
  3. Folks most at risk for this disease include the elderly and especially those with underlying medical conditions such as COPD, diabetes, heart disease or cancer.
  4. Not everyone needs to be tested for the coronavirus, those needing to be tested need to meet certain criteria that suggest they may be at risk for this disease.

How can you best protect yourself and avoid becoming ill from the coronavirus:

  1. If you are sick, stay home.  If you have a cough and fever, stay home.
  2. If you are sick, call your family physician or primary care provider and let them help you determine if you need to be tested or seen. 
  3. During any kind of pandemic, you should avoid going to the Emergency Room or the Doctors’ Office for routine things that could be handled after the pandemic passes.  Remember: that is where the sick folks are and that is who you need to avoid.
  4. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water.  Hand sanitizers should only be used when soap and water are not available.
  5. Cover your cough, cough into your elbow.
  6. Keep your hands away from your face.
  7. Avoid large crowds and crowded spaces.  Social distancing, which means staying at least 6 feet from the nearest person, is the best way to avoid coming in contact with this and other infectious diseases.

We need to all work together to meet the challenge of this new coronavirus disease.  Avoiding panic and using good common sense measures can help us all stay safe and healthy.

John S. Meigs, MD, FAAFP

President, Medical Association of the State of Alabama

Posted in: Leadership, Members, Official Statement

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Shift in Patient’s Right to Access Medical Records

Shift in Patient’s Right to Access Medical Records

By: Kelli C. Fleming, Burr & Forman

The Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”), the government agency tasked with HIPAA compliance and enforcement, recently announced a change impacting a patient’s right to access his/her medical records—a change which is, given OCR’s history, surprisingly favorable to providers. 

One of the long-standing premises of HIPAA has been a patient’s right to access his/her medical records. For years, the HIPAA regulations have limited the fees that providers can charge patients when they request a copy of their medical records to a reasonable, cost-based fee (regardless of the permitted state law fees). HITECH expanded this right a few years ago by allowing patients to exercise their right to access medical records, but designate a third-party to whom the records should be sent (e.g., the patient’s attorney). These requests from patients to send their records to a designated third-party are oftentimes referred to in the industry as “HITECH” requests. 

Subsequent OCR guidance stated that the historical limitation on fees that applied when a patient exercised his/her right to access medical records would also apply to the situation where a patient requested that his/her records be sent to a designated third-party pursuant to a “HITECH” request. As a result, providers were limited in what they could charge third-parties, such as attorneys, seeking access to medical records by way of a “HITECH” request from a patient, as opposed to by way of a HIPAA authorization. 

However, based on a recent court order, such limitation on fees no longer applies to “HITECH” requests. As a result of the recent court decision, OCR has clarified that “the fee limitation set forth at 45 C.F.R. § 164.524(c)(4) will apply only to an individual’s request for access to their own records, and does not apply to an individual’s request to transmit records to a third party.” Thus, as a result of this recent court decision, providers, and their business associates, are no longer bound by the HIPAA-imposed limitation on fees when a patient requests that a copy of his/her medical records be sent to a designated third party (e.g., attorney). For these “HITECH” requests, providers can now charge fees acceptable under state law, without applying the HIPAA fee limitations. These state law fees are oftentimes higher than the HIPAA fees. Further, the court decision clarified that such “HITECH” requests are limited to requests for an electronic health record with respect to PHI maintained in an electronic format.

OCR has been clear that the  HIPAA limitation on fees, however, will continue to apply to patient requests to access their own medical records when the records are delivered directly to the patient. Nonetheless, this shift in guidance is favorable to providers and much welcomed by the healthcare industry.

Kelli Fleming is a Partner at Burr & Forman LLP practicing exclusively in the firm’s healthcare industry group.

Posted in: Legal Watch, Members

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Appropriate Use Criteria for Advanced Diagnostic Imaging

Appropriate Use Criteria for Advanced Diagnostic Imaging

Contributed by: Gregg Everett, Gilpin Givhan

The Protecting Access to Medicare Act (PAMA) was passed in 2014.  PAMA required the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to establish a program that promotes “Appropriate Use Criteria” (AUC) for advanced diagnostic imaging. AUC’s are evidence-based criteria that assist professionals who order and furnish certain imaging services to make the most appropriate treatment decisions for specific clinical conditions. Once the AUC program is fully implemented (2021), payment will only be made for an advanced diagnostic imaging service if the Medicare claim indicates that the ordering professional consulted with a qualified Clinical Decision Support Mechanism (CDSM) about whether the ordered service meets an applicable AUC.  A CDSM is an interactive electronic tool for use by clinicians that communicates AUC information and assists in making appropriate treatment decisions during a patient’s workup.  An ordering professional is a physician or other licensed professional who orders an imaging service.  The settings covered include hospital outpatient departments (which includes the hospital’s ER), ambulatory surgery centers, physicians’ offices and IDTF’s.  

Advanced diagnostic imaging services include MRI’s, CT scans, PET scans and nuclear medicine. The CDSM must be reported on claims for payment using G-codes, modifiers and, eventually, the ordering physician’s NPI. For the period July 1, 2019, through December 31, 2019, only voluntary reporting was required.  Beginning January 1, 2020, an educational and operations testing period will be implemented, which is expected to run through December 31, 2020. For now, CMS will still pay a claim, whether or not the claim correctly includes AUC information. Eventually, CMS must develop outlier criteria (which will require some ordering professionals to obtain prior authorizations) and will not pay those claims that do not have AUC information, unless a specific exception is met. The exceptions include emergency services provided to individuals with emergency medical conditions (EMTALA definition), inpatient care where payment is made under Part A Medicare, or significant hardships, which includes insufficient internet access and EHR or CDSM vendor issues.  

Qualified CDSM’s (only national professional medical specialty societies or other organizations of providers who predominantly provide direct patient care may develop CDSM’s) must be approved by CMS and must meet other criteria, such as providing a certification or other documentation at the time of the order that a qualified CDSM was consulted, and whether or not the service ordered met the requirements of the specific referenced AUC. The regulations also list certain “priority clinical areas” that will be monitored to identify outlier ordering professionals as follows:  coronary artery disease (suspected or diagnosed), suspected pulmonary embolisms, headache (traumatic and non-traumatic), hip pain, low back pain, shoulder pain (including suspected rotator cuff injury), cancer of the lung (primary or metastasis, and suspected or diagnosed), and cervical and back pain. Ordering physicians and settings for these imaging services should begin the process of including AUC’s on Medicare claims in January 2020.

For more information see:

  1. “Protecting Access to Medicare Act of 2014,” Section 216, (Public Law 113-93), 42 U.S.C. Section 1395m(p) and (q).
  2. 42 CFR Section 414.94 – “Appropriate Use Criteria for Advanced Imaging Services.
  3. “Appropriate Use Criteria (AUC) for Advanced Diagnostic Imaging – Educational and Operations Testing Period—Claims Processing Requirements”; MLN Matters Number MM11268 Revised December 6, 2019.

Posted in: CMS, Legal Watch, Medicare, Members

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